Leah is standing on the deserted train platform with her rucksack on, trying to warm her hands in her coat pockets and tapping her feet on the ground. The station looks shabby and desolate. She wraps her scarf tightly around her neck. She really shouldn’t have left her flat this late, but she was feeling so depressed and misses her boyfriend Peter like crazy. So that weekend in Paris was a spur of the moment decision. Even if it meant warning her two roommates at the last minute, packing a few belongings in her bag and dragging herself to the nearest cashpoint at midnight. She has withdrawn 200 euros and made her way to the station where she bought a ticket to the City of Lights on the Brive Paris sleeper train. She is on her way to meet her lover. After all, you only live once and she would just DIE if she couldn’t see Peter the next day, feel the warmth of his skin against her and the softness of his cuddles. All that matters to her now is him, and to hell with her Erasmus studies in that sedate little French town in the middle of nowhere. Peter and his dark moods, Peter and his uneven temper, Peter who blows hot and cold but also Peter the history graduate who thinks he belongs to another century, who is romantic and passionate, who cooks her nice meals and prefers letters to texts and emails. Although the tone of his letters had become colder recently. He had hinted at another female he had met at a party, who didn’t leave him indifferent. Leah had to respect his freedom as he respected hers. She had cried, then he had told her she was his only true love, distance was the problem. If they could see each other more often, everything would be different. How about a weekend in Paris to talk things over?
” I’ll get a Eurostar ticket and pay for a cosy little hotel. See you very soon my little duck”.
She checks her last messages on her mobile. It is now completely dark and misty. Two cats are meowing in the distance. Their cries are wild, they seem to be fighting. She can also hear some laughter and music from the nearby bars. Some stay open quite late at night. A woman in a short leather skirt approaches the station, stumbling on her high heels.
” Have you got a fag, love?”she asks Leah. A tall bearded man with a wrinkled face and an angry expression comes running after her and grabs her by the arm. Without a word of protest, she follows him back into one the clubs.
Leah can still hear the raucous laughter of the revellers. Maybe she could go and sit somewhere for a coffee, she is so cold…but those places look too seedy and she doesn’t dare. Her train shouldn’t be too long coming anyway.
She has sent a text to Peter and wants to check her messages. She realises her phone battery is dead. Oh no, not now, when she is so desperate to hear from him… She curses inwardly and tears start flooding her eyes. She has never trusted Peter very much. He has always made it very clear he was a free spirit…as she thought she was too until she met him.
” Are you okay?” She turns around and notices the young stranger standing right besides her. She was so absorbed in her own thoughts she had been totally oblivious to his presence. He is slim, has curly dark hair, a nice tan and very white teeth. He is wearing jeans, a baseball cap and a sweathshirt with some American logo.
” You know, you shouldn’t really be hanging around here on your own right now. It´s not a very safe part of the city.”
” I am waiting for my train. Would you mind if I borrowed your phone for a minute? I just need to call my boyfriend. He should be in Paris by now. I have no battery left and I can pay you for the call.”
– No problem, go ahead. As long as you are safe…”
He hands her his mobile. She tries to ring Peter but there is no reply. He smiles.
” Men are all the same, aren’t they? Hey, don’t panic. He’s probably asleep. You’ve got me to look after you now… By the way, what´s your name?”
” Mine is Karim.” He has an engaging smile. He offers her a rolled up cigarette and they each get a coffee from the vending machine. She feels a bit better now, comforted by his presence and her stomach warmed up.
” Here’s our train. I’m afraid it´s not the TGV.” An ageing Corail Express that has seen much better days comes crawling into the station. Leah and Karim board carriage number 15.
” Mind if we have a little chat together?”he asks her. “I have some weed with me. No one is going to check on us at this time of night”. She agrees, so desperate for a bit of company.
” So where are you off to?”
” Paris. Just for the weekend. I’m supposed to be meeting my boyfriend.”
” Is it really serious between you two?”
” It´s complicated. I don’t think he’s quite ready to commit.”
” Yeah, I know the feeling. My last girlfriend kicked me out.” He hands her a joint.She inhales deeply. He asks her where she comes from, she says Birmingham, England.
” I am studying for a Law Degree. Then I might do a Master’s Degree. I’m only here for a year. What about you?”
” Oh you know, school’s never been my thing I’m afraid. Now I am going to Paris to stay with some mates and look for work. I lived with my brother in Marseille when I moved from Algeria. I was only a kid. But there was a civil war in my country for a while. And I found it hard to get used to the French school system. I didn’t speak the language very well. And the other school kids were making fun of me and calling me a dirty Arab.”
” You know, I feel a kind of bond between us.” Leah feels more relaxed with the cannabis. “Maybe because in a way we are both foreign, both lonely. And Peter, he is always so uptight…”
” Perhaps you are an angel and are here to save me.”
” Save you from what?”
” Many things”. He stays silent for a while. The train rattles on the track. She leans her forehead on the window and closes her eyes.
He touches her hand gently.
” Is that a cashmere jumper you’re wearing?
” Yes, it was a Christmas present from my parents.”
” Your skin is so soft Leah. Let me warm your hands.”
He caresses her hands and strokes her hair.
” Have you ever fancied someone on a train before?”
” Well, last year I went on a trip to Spain and I took the train to go to Gibraltar. It was the middle of Summer and we were going through the Andalusian countryside. And I met that gorgeous Australian surfer with his tan and sunkissed hair. We could have…but we didn’t. Maybe I am too much of a Victorian after all. I’ve never been able to really let go of my inhibitions. I have always held back… Although I feel a bit different today…
” Amina was my girl. I was really serious about her. We were going to have a baby and everything. I tried to do everything right for her. But nothing was ever good enough. And it was the same with Karen. Thought she was above me. She told me to leave even though I had a good job and had given up drinking. But you… You could be my woman.”
” I’ll try to help you Karim. But it will only be one night…” She lets her head fall onto his shoulder and awaits his reaction. But he seems to be tensing up. She opens her eyes and he is staring at her with an expression of cold contempt.
” So this is it then. Just like the others. You’re all the same, Karen, Amina, all the same stuck up bitches. Just a bunch of dirty sluts.”
They have reached a signal.
“Karim, what is wrong with you?”
” What is wrong with me? I’ll tell you what is wrong with me if you just listen, bitch! No, don’t try to run away, Karen tried and it wasn’t any use…”
” Let me go please. I’ll do anything.”
Leah has tried to make a way for the door but he has blocked her exit. He yanks her hair and pins her down to her seat. He tries to fondle her breasts. She pushes him away, kicking and screaming in terror. He puts his hand over her mouth.
” Do you know what it feels like to be rejected? No matter how hard you try, women never think you’re good enough for them. Never. And I’ve tried. I’ve really tried… What do you know about life anyway? Well, I’ll show you. I’ll show you a little bit of life…”
She scratches his face and tries to bite his hand. He slaps her.
” Look what you’ve just done to me bitch. You’ve just bitten me Leah. Do you know where Karen is now? She is lying in a bin bag at the bottom of the cellar. No one will ever find her now.”
Leah is begging, pleading for her life. Is it all going to end like this when all of her earlier problems now seem so futile by comparison. They engage in a desperate struggle. She is just an animal fighting for her survival. He holds her down against the seat, his hands tightening against her throat. She tries to scream one more time but she can no longer utter any sound. She sees blinking lights in front of her and his dark demented eyes as the train keeps hissing.
He feels her going limp in his arms. He kisses and caresses her lifeless body. Quickly he opens the carriage window. He lifts the corpse and throws it out where it crashes at high speed against the rails. He heaves a sigh of relief and lights a cigarette. He glances at his watch. It is now 4.20 am.